The Human Rights of Rural Australians

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The Human Rights of Rural Australians

Occasional Paper, May 1996

Human rights are universal. This means they apply to all people wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. People living in rural areas have an equal entitlement to human rights as those people who live in urban areas. However, for rural Australians, the full enjoyment of their human rights can sometimes be problematic. The reasons for this are many and varied. They include issues of distance and remoteness, the extremes of weather and the uncertainties of the rural economy. In Australia, the high concentration of population in major urban centres can lead to inequalities in the provision of goods, services and opportunities.

This includes areas such as:

The right to work

In many rural areas people have fewer opportunities for employment and are more likely to be out of work longer than their urban counterparts - particularly young people under 25 years of age.

The right to a decent standard of living

The incidence of poverty in rural and remote areas of Australia is considerably higher than the national average.


The standard of health care in rural Australia is in crisis, as evidenced by indicators such as the extremely low ratio of general practitioners to population.


All Australians have the right to reasonable access to sufficient, clean, safe water for their survival and health, yet many thousands of people in smaller remote communities are without direct water supply to their homes.

Some groups of people in rural areas experience particularly serious problems.

Young people

Australia suffers one of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world. The suicide rate for young males in small country communities is especially high and has increased by 600% in the space of one generation.

Rural young people experience particular difficulty with the juvenile justice system. In rural areas detention facilities for young offenders are few and far between. This results in young people who are given a term in detention being taken far from their homes and families. Advocacy and other support services for young rural people in the juvenile justice system remain inadequate.

Indigenous people

The Indigenous people of Australia are without doubt the most disadvantaged group in our society. This disadvantage is felt especially in rural and remote areas and can be seen by indicators such as the high rate of infant mortality, high rates of pneumonia and respiratory illnesses and the shamefully poor standard of Indigenous housing.

People with mental illness

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Mental Illness Inquiry highlighted the serious shortage of support services for people in rural areas affected by mental illness.

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Last updated 2 December 2001.